Taking Women, Peace and Security beyond 2020: It’s time to listen to women peacebuilders!

Taking Women, Peace and Security beyond 2020: It’s time to listen to women peacebuilders!

November 19, 2020 by Agnieszka Fal-Dutra Santos

“You need to take risks for peace to build peace! I was struck by the severity of the challenges the report [produced by the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders with support from the Government of Ireland and UN Women] revealed. It makes it clear that there is a need for structural change to enable inclusive and sustainable peace.”

H.E. Mary Robinson, Chair of the Elders and former President of the Republic of Ireland

The global momentum generated by the 20th anniversary of the UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) on October 31st, 2020, was much anticipated. At the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP) we began preparing more than a year prior to this milestone moment. We discussed and strategized with our national and local partners, and produced concrete recommendations, research and strategies. We spearheaded advocacy to ensure meaningful integration of Women, Peace and Security (WPS) and Youth, Peace and Security (YPS) in the preparations for the commemoration of the 25th Anniversary of the Beijing Platform of Action. We worked with our colleagues at the NGO Working Group on WPS to develop a Civil Society Roadmap on WPS. The question that guided us in all this was: How do we accelerate implementation, and ensure that commitments made during this momentous year do not remain empty words, but translate into concrete actions beyond 2020? To us, it was clear that the 20th Anniversary of the landmark Resolution 1325 – a resolution that was conceived of and drafted by women peacebuilders – needs to be a moment of awakening and radical re-commitment, rather than merely celebration.

So, from Armenia to South Africa, from Colombia to South Sudan, from the Philippines to Ukraine, women peacebuilders discussed, planned and prepared. But for all the foresight that went into the 20th Anniversary, none of us expected that it will happen the way it did. COVID-19 has highlighted and exacerbated many of the challenges and barriers faced by women peacebuilders around the world. It also set the stage for the first virtual Anniversary of UNSCR 1325 and Open Debate on WPS.

At the same time, COVID-19 has also underscored the resilience of women peacebuilders and the feminist and women’s movements around the world. Throughout the pandemic, we remained connected, despite the gendered digital gap, which leaves many women without access to the internet. We maintained high levels of coordination and continued our advocacy for effective implementation of UNSCR 1325. Throughout the month of October, women peacebuilders, separated by distance and time difference, have found ways to connect – gathering in small groups in offices with internet access to attend virtual events, purchasing mobile phones and mobile credit to stay in touch, creating social media hashtags and campaigns.

The strength of solidarity and sisterhood in the face of the pandemic was, to me, one of the defining features of this year, and the 20th Anniversary of UNSCR 1325.

The unparalleled ability of women peacebuilders to adapt and innovate in the face of crisis and uncertainty once again underscores that they are the leaders and pioneers in building and sustaining peace.

It was in this spirit that on October 26, 2020, just a few days ahead of the Open Debate on WPS, GNWP, the Government of Ireland and UN Women organized a high-level event “Learning from Grassroots Women Peacebuilders: Advancing the Women, Peace and Security Agenda Beyond 2020”. The event brought together women peacebuilders from Colombia, Northern Ireland and Uganda, as well as the representatives of governments and the UN. It was designed to provide the women peacebuilders to share their experiences, perspectives and recommendations for action with key policy- and decision-makers ahead of the 20th Anniversary of UNSCR 1325. As Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of GNWP underlined in her remarks during the event, “it is the time for the international community to talk less, and instead listen more and learn from women peacebuilders.”  

Taking WPS beyond 2020: What do women peacebuilders have to say?

During the event, Beatriz Quintero, Executive Director of the Red Nacional de Mujeres in Colombia, Elizabeth Law, Chair of the Northern Irish European Women’s Platform and Rebecca (Becky) Turyatunga Juna, a young activist from Uganda, reflected on the key challenges to the full and effective implementation of the WPS resolutions, and the way in which COVID-19 has affected it. Their recommendations reflected those from the report commissioned by Ireland, and prepared by GNWP with support from UN Women.

The research, and the interventions of Beatriz, Elizabeth and Becky underscored many recurring themes on the implementation gaps that have been identified in previous years. At the same, they also identified innovative ways forward and locally-driven solutions that need to be recognized, amplified and replicated, particularly in the context of COVID-19 recovery.

Here is what women peacebuilders have to say:

1. It’s time to move from words to action!

Women peacebuilders who participated in the research carried out by GNWP agreed that the legal and normative framework on WPS at the global level is strong and sufficient. They called for translating the existing global laws into local languages, and into concrete policies and actions at the national and local levels. They emphasized the importance of adopting National Action Plans (NAPs), which allow the civil society to hold their government accountable for their WPS commitments. To date, 85 out of the 193 UN Member States adopted NAPs on WPS. However, only 24% of NAPs had dedicated budgets at adoption. Women peacebuilders interviewed by GNWP urgently called for an increased commitment to, and investment in, NAPs – including through the use of localization of UNSCR 1325 as a key implementation strategy.

In line with this call, Beatriz Quintero reminded participants of the high-level event that full implementation of UNSCR 1325 and gender provisions in peace agreements is necessary to build a more stable and secure world. She warned that COVID-19 has been used as an excuse to slow down the implementation and divert funding away from women-led peacebuilding and the implementation of the peace agreement.

2. Peace is more than an absence of war – to sustain it, we need to change our global culture!

To women peacebuilders, peace is more than an absence of war. When GNWP asked 1,600 women and men across 50 countries “What does peace mean to you?” in a research conducted in 2018 with support from UN Women, their responses painted a holistic, human-centric vision of peace. Peace means living without fear in one’s own home. Peace means having a say in decisions about one’s future. Peace means all girls – including those living in marginalized communities, refugee and IDP girls – being able to go to, and graduate from, school.

This year these words ring particularly true. Elizabeth Law warned that as security risks and tensions within communities rise during the pandemic, it is necessary to ensure delivery of basic services, address trauma and mental health issues, and consolidate the human rights framework. This is the only way to guarantee sustainable peace. Women are already doing this, she stressed. They have mobilized to address the needs of their communities and respond to increased tensions and reduced safety. But they remain excluded from decision-making!

If COVID-19 made one thing clear, it’s that weapons do not make us safer.

Military responses are not successful in staving off the deadly pandemic. Today more than ever, peace means more than an absence of war. It means having access to protective equipment, quality healthcare, including mental health services, and a safe space to turn to if one faces violence at home. 

3. Women’s exclusion is not an accident – structural barriers hinder meaningful participation!

Law, Quintero and Juna all emphasized the exclusion of women from peace negotiations and decision-making, including on peace and security and COVID-19 response and recovery.

Women who participated in research and consultations across Colombia, Northern Ireland highlighted that the exclusion is systematic and deeply rooted in cultures and institutions. In a similar vein, Beatriz stressed that in Colombia, “pre-existing inequalities and the patriarchal system mean that women, ethnic minorities and lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19”, yet they are not included in official discussions about pandemic response and recovery.

Becky highlighted the importance of the digital divide as a barrier to women’s participation. Globally, women are 23 percent less likely than men to use mobile internet. Becky was able to join the discussion, because she borrowed a smartphone from a friend, and had her mobile data purchased by organizers. “But what about women in rural settings who do not have access to a smartphone?” – she asked poignantly.

Patriarchal systems, unequal access to technology, education and economic opportunities, and over-militarized cultures that render women’s contributions to peace invisible are all at the root of their exclusion. Addressing it requires a systemic change.


Over 20 years ago, women peacebuilders made history, by drafting a UN Security Council Resolution that formally recognized that women’s “equal participation and full involvement” as essential to “all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.” As we enter the 21st year of the ground-breaking WPS agenda, women peacebuilder’s message is clear: we need deep, structural changes to create a culture more conducive to women’s meaningful participation in peace and security processes at all levels.

Such systemic and cultural changes can only take place if women from all walks of life have a seat at the table and equal say in all decisions. This requires investment in addressing the persistent barriers to participation, including violence and the threat of violence, lack of financial independence, and restrictive societal norms. The road to full and effective implementation of the WPS agenda still faces many challenges. But women peacebuilders have the solutions. It is time we listened to them.